Theater of History: Performing the Past in American Jewish Museums
What is “the problem with Jewish museums”? Whereas there were only two major Jewish museums in the United States before the Second World War, there has been a proliferation of Jewish museums and Holocaust museums since. What stories do they tell? Who are they for? And, is there something about the American Jewish experience that distinguishes Jewish museums from those devoted to the history of other Americans?
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University. Her books include Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage; Image before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt), The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (with Jonathan Karp), and Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (with Jeffrey Shandler), among others.
She was honored for lifetime achievement by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, received an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the 2015 Marshall Sklare Award for her contribution to the social scientific study of Jewry. She was recently decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by the President of Poland for her contribution to POLIN Museum. She currently serves on Advisory Boards for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Museum Vienna, Jewish Museum Berlin, Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, and museum and exhibition projects in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Israel.